Have you ever said something you wished later you hadn’t?
It was a quick response, they needed a decision now – or thought they did – so you fired off an answer. Looking back now you might have answered differently with more information or time to process.
It happens all the time to all of us.
What the leader says can negatively impact other people or the organization. Our words are powerful. Good leaders have to learn to think strategically even when making quick decisions.
Most leaders make hundreds of decisions a day and many of those require very little thought. If a leader is asked a question or has to make a decision where an answer has already been clearly defined, then the leader can move quickly. When the issue, however, has an undetermined solution, especially if the decision could alter the direction of the organization, impact other people or require a change in the organization’s finances, then the leader needs to learn to think strategically in the moment.
How do we make fast decisions and still be strategic? How can we make the best decisions in the shortest amount of time?
Here are 7 ways for a leader to make strategic decisions quickly:
I think we have devalued the short, urgent, sudden prayer. (I love to pray Psalm 69:1.) I don’t think God does. I think He responds to the prayers of His people. “If any of you lacks wisdom…”, James reminds us. Getting into the practice of sentence prayers invites God’s Spirit to join you in the decision-making process. And, I’m not devaluing the human mind or experience. I think God wants us to think, but remember, this post is addressing making quick and important decisions strategically – and many times it will be decisions we have possibly never made previously. I don’t want to make those on my own.
I always take notes while listening. This allows me to see the situation in writing while I think through a response. If I’m not certain I understand the situation, seeing my notes allows me to ask for further clarification. If I’m in my office, I have a huge painted dry-erase wall. I may diagram different scenarios of the answer. If taking notes is not an option and the answer is not definite – I will almost always postpone the answer. This helps me avoid making major decisions on the run.
This is a problem for some leaders – especially busy, highly creative leaders. It’s one I struggle with personally. Many leaders (this one included) have problems with details. Accustomed to making quick and many decisions, leaders often try to solve an issue on the spot rather than have to deal with it later. This is a great approach for the issues that have a defined solution already, but if it’s committing to something that hasn’t been decided yet, it could be dangerous. I try to listen for enough details to make a wise decision, but if I know I can’t make a quick decision based on the information I have time to hear, then I delay making one.
This is really formed by habit, but it involves training yourself to always asking questions such as, How will this decision impact other people and the organization? What happens “next” after this decision is made? Who is impacted? How will people respond? Is this the best timing? Thinking “NEXT” means I am thinking of the repercussions, which will come “next” after the decision is made.
If I am uncertain about some of these answers, I know it is be best to delay deciding on the issue until I can give it adequate time for consideration. Many leaders make decisions that others have to live with because they didn’t take time to think through the best answer.
“Keeping a tight reign” on your tongue is actually a Biblical concept. Part of spiritual and personal growth is to mature in the area of what a leader says. The more responsibility a leader receives the more critical it becomes that he or she practice discipline with their words. This is a continuous work in progress for me, but over the years I have learned to hold my tongue until I have thought through a response.
“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22) One of my favorite questions is, “What would you do?” I ask the person asking for a decision from me. I ask others on our team. I’m not afraid to pause and phone a friend. I ask my wife. I ask the people who have to live with the answer. The more time we have for an answer the more people I’m likely to ask.
Waiting is never a bad idea if it leads to a better decision. I realize time is of the essence in most decisions these days – especially in an organizational sense, but equally important is protecting the vision, the morale of the team or the organization’s future.
Plus, I have learned by experience there is a value in caged momentum – making people wait for the best time to give the best answer. Obviously there is an opportunity cost of waiting too long. The leader should not be a bottleneck as people wait for an answer. And, the leader should empower people to make the majority of decisions. But, when the answer has huge implications the leader should not be afraid to say, “give me a few minutes (or some reasonable amount of time) to process.”
There are a few of my thoughts on making strategic decisions quickly. It’s a discipline and a practice, but leaders, the better decisions we make the better our organizations will be. Let’s be strategic.
Could this be a discipline you need to practice?